Monday, March 11, 2024 at 7:30pm
Two by Harun Farocki

361 Stagg Street, Suite 407, Brooklyn

Inextinguishable Fire, Harun Farocki, 1969, digital projection, 22 mins
Eye/Machine I-III, Harun Farocki, 2001-2003, digital projection, 65 mins

In the opening shot of Inextinguishable Fire, a young Harun Farocki presses a lit cigarette onto the bare skin of his forearm, to demonstrate the tiniest fraction of pain that would be experienced in a napalm attack. “When we show you pictures of napalm victims, you'll shut your eyes,” the filmmaker tells us. “You'll close your eyes to the pictures. Then you'll close them to the memory. And then you'll close your eyes to the facts." It is one of the most arresting sequences cinema has ever produced, made in protest at the height of the American war in Vietnam; somewhat paradoxically, its purpose is to make us skeptical that such violent images hold any significant political power at all.

For what can images of atrocity do to stop the events that they picture? “When napalm is burning, it is too late to extinguish it,” Farocki continues. “You have to fight napalm where it is produced: in the factories.” To do so, Farocki presents a series of speculative, forensic re-enactments, using German performers to imagine goings-on inside the drab offices and sterile laboratories of Dow Chemical in far-away Midland, Michigan. The actors’ flat delivery and stiff mannerisms slowly build a complex conceptual diagram of corporate-military collusion. “In effect,” Hal Foster has remarked, “Farocki applies Warholian means to Brechtian ends.”

Made over three decades later, Farocki’s Eye/Machine triptych examines an even more alien set of images, linked to the Gulf War and its aftermath: jittering lattices of multicolored vectors generated to help machines see the world. Across a butterfly arrangement of overlapping screens, Farocki demonstrates that these late 20th-century experiments in artificial vision were developed to aid weapons systems, but by the new millennium quickly began to find experimental applications in industrial production, medicine, and transportation. Thus the mechanisms of power have moved from the physical to the immaterial. In the 1960s, the same chemicals were used to create firebombs or herbicides; in our century, the same circuits and algorithms control self-guided missiles or self-driving cars.

The sound of the filmmaker’s voice is gone, replaced by the ambient clicks and hums of electronic devices. In lieu of spoken narration, Farocki interposes bits of aphoristic text, fleeting motes of human contemplation interrupting an ongoing torrent of exotic sense-data, optimized for digital minds. “The lines tell us emphatically what is all-important in these images, and just as emphatically what is of no importance at all,” Farocki states. “Superfluous reality is denied—a constant denial provoking opposition.” In 2003, Eye/Machine must have seemed like an almost unreadably weird glimpse into a future of “operational images.” Today, Farocki’s series feels like an incisive genealogical study of our own increasingly AI-infested era, in which carnage and commerce have become still further entangled.

Tickets - Pay what you can ($10 suggested donation), available at door.

Please note: seating is limited. First-come, first-served. Box office opens at 7pm. No entry 10 minutes after start of show.